Feminist Mormon Housewifes: Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too)

With the recent legal brouhaha over homosexual marrige in California and the LDS Church’s response, the homosexual marriage issue is again a hot topic in religious circle and around the blogosphere. One of the big arguments of those advocating for homosexual marriage bans is that we must protect “traditional marriage.” Of course, I’m always curious what form of traditional marriage they want to protect; after all, marriage has had many different forms around the world, and has experienced quite a bit of evolution over the past couple hundred years.

“Not Ophelia,” contributor to Feminist Mormon Housewives, has written a profound post, “Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too),” addressing just that point.

What we call marriage in this country is a very recent invention. Throughout the millennia marriage has been, not about two people who love each other and want to share a life together, but rather about power, property and paternity. About male control of women’s work, women’s lives and women’s fertility. The importance of virginity, the stigma of bastardy, the ‘head of the household’ status, coverture, and in some cultures arranged marriages, bride price, dowries, honor killings, and the right of husbands but not wives to divorce at will — all of this was (or shamefully still is) part of the effects of traditional marriage.

I’m glad she was willing to barbecue that sacred cow. Whether or not we believe homosexual marriage is sinful, it is certainly worth considering just what traditional marriage means as a theory and in our lives.

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13 Responses to “Feminist Mormon Housewifes: Traditional Marriage is Dead (and it’s a good thing too)”

  1. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I was hoping you would address this after the recent news that the Church took the nearly unprecedented step of actively asking members to oppose gay marriage. Have your own views changed at all? This has been a hard issue for me, because I know people I care for who are in gay relationships and I can see how unfair it would look from their point of view, and I’ve never had strong feelings against two consenting adults who want to call themselves married and enjoy some of the legal benefits, whether God recognizes their union or not. So in a way, I’m being asked to go against my own libertarian(ish) inclinations. It is clear as can be that those we sustain as prophets are not budging on this issue and lines are being drawn. I don’t believe that President Monson or any of the Brethren are about persecuting people. It seems they are insisting we be on board and that they see this as a fundamental issue where compromising would lead to consequences. It’s challenged me, but picking and choosing what we believe our leaders to be inspired on is dangerous.

    On your concluding paragraph, I hope people WILL consider what marriage means to them, and come away more devoted to having truly celestial relationships in their homes. Much of what Ophelia said is valid. However, we in the Church know the true intent of eternal marriage, and just because others are taking it lightly and making a mockery of it does not mean we should stop standing up for the ideals. As a pre-emptive disclaimer, I’m sure that would be the same argument you feel you made a few days ago about the foreign policy mistakes of our past, but we’re talking about the kingdom of God here, and my recent argument with you was more about your choice of words than anything else.

  2. Misty Fowler Says:

    Aaron,
    I get the impression that when I get married, never having been LDS, that either I will be abusing ‘celestial marriage’ and/or that it will somehow qualify as ‘celestial marriage’. If not, then you must have misunderstood. The subject of gay mariage is a legal and personal one. Churches don’t have to recognize it, nor should thay have to. But if you were then I have a huge problem with the church trying to subvert my government. I don’t want anyone forcing ‘celestial marriage’ on me.

  3. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Misty, flattering that you would think that I could answer such questions as to whom qualifies for celestial marriage. I am not sure what your problem is with what I said. Nobody is trying to force celestial marriage on you. The title of this blog is “Liberal politics and social commentary from a distinctly LDS perspective.” What I meant was that I hoped people would give more thought and effort to their marriages to make it what it was intended to be, regardless of what religion they belong to. The whole institution has had a very checkered past unworthy of the way that I (and most people participating on this blog) believe it should be.

    I understand your concern about the Church trying to “subvert” the government, as you put it. As I mentioned before, it goes against my own feelings in a lot of ways. But they have every right to do so on a matter they see as fundamental. Truth be told, everyone else is trying to subvert it too, such as last month when California essentially told its people that they were too stupid to understand or get a say in the matter. And if the gay-rights groups aren’t guilty of subversion, using every improper method they can to gain widespread acceptance by labeling everyone who doesn’t see it their way a bigot, I don’t know who is.

  4. saintless Says:

    Aaron,

    I have absolutely no issues with you believing one way or another about gay marriage. But, when you (or “the” church) want to make it illegal, that’s where the problem comes in.

    As a Catholic, I don’t think my Church can or should have any right to impose it’s belief on others.

    That’s all I’m saying.

  5. Erin Says:

    I really appreciate you writing this and have made similar arguments in the past. I don’t understand how their unions are at all a threat to ours. In no way do gays getting married undermine my own covenants. I see gay marriage as giving them equal rights as the rest of us. Saying no to gay marriage is not going to change them forming unions.

  6. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I get it, Misty, but I disagree with the way you are defining “impose”. I sound like President Clinton there, but the churches who are participating in this coalition are not imposing anything. They are simply making their voices heard on what they believe to be of prime importance. So what you really mean is that you don’t think the Vatican or Salt Lake or whoever else should use their influence in politics. By your definition, we have things “imposed” on us all the time whenever people vote.

  7. Ben Says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. While I do believe gay relationships go against what God would like for His children, I don’t think you can legislate personal morality, and I don’t think it’s any of our business, really.

  8. Frank Staheli Says:

    Hopefully not sounding trite, the “traditional marriage” that I think the LDS Church is standing up for is its understanding of the tradition of Adam, who had the utmost respect for his wife, Eve. The LDS Church teaches a great deal about how men should show such respect to all women and girls in ALL circumstances. Christ never abused or denigrated women, and the LDS Church teaches (Book of Mormon: Alma 13:2) that males as (potential) priesthood holders are to do their best in emulating a Christlike life.

    The long-standing tradition of marriage is not so pristine. But it is clear that the pristine version of marriage (where the wife is the equal partner, and where the husband would never abuse spouse or children in any way) is what the LDS Church is attempting to promulgate. In this light, I think it important to note that the LDS Church is does not seem to be attempting to denigrate the legal rights that any two women or any two men who wish to have those rights. The Church is, rather, trying to prohibit government-recognized sexual license and to promulgate a healthy view of sexuality, which is that its sacred nature is to be confined to the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman.

    I think that our society has a ways to go (and I dare be presumptuous enough to say, but I’m not sure, that the LDS church leadership would agree with me) to secure the deserved legal rights, such as hospital visitation, insurance benefits, etc. for “domestic partnerships”. But the Church can no more stand idly by when a government entity grants, in addition to those rights, the license to homosexual promiscuity, than it could when governments granted license to heterosexual promiscuity through such decisions as no-fault divorce and cohabitation laws. I think the existing evidence is clear that any sort of sexual promiscuity, when it becomes pervasive enough, will ultimately help to cause the downfall of society. It already has in many smaller areas of the country.

  9. Frank Staheli Says:

    To support my above theory, I found the following comment by Elder Lance B. Wickman on the LDS Church Newsroom website:

    As far as something less than that — as far as relationships that give to some pairs in our society some right but not all of those associated with marriage — as to that, as far as I know, the First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself. There are numbers of different types of partnerships or pairings that may exist in society that aren’t same-gender sexual relationships that provide for some right that we have no objection to.

  10. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Frank, I agree that the Church tries to promote a more enlightened view of marriage than the worldly traditional marriage. Mormon supporters should therefore recognize the difference between the Church’s ideals and traditional marriage, and stop equating the two in their attack on homosexual marriage. Additionally, as we recently discussed on your blog, the positions membership and leaders on women have not infrequently been effected by “traditional” conventions, and that no doubt has spilled over into attitudes of marriage in the Church. “Not Ophelia” mentioned one example of that in alluding to earlier versions of the temple ceremony. We can also see plenty of historical examples in which teaching respect for women is actually used as a way to oppress them (ie, women are so special that we should lock them in the house so that they can’t be sullied by the world). Can we claim this has never happened in the Church?

    I believe you are sincere when you say “the LDS Church is does not seem to be attempting to denigrate the legal rights that any two women or any two men who wish to have those rights.” But when in history has “separate but equal” ever worked? The very act of forcing a separate class seems to me to be dangerously close to restricting those legal rights.

    Why do you think homosexual marriage sanctions homosexual promiscuity? These are people who want to be officially committed to one partner. Homosexual marriage has nothing to do with the people who are pursuing multiple partners.

    I think true libertarianism (or classical liberalism) recognizes that government has no role in encouraging, sanctioning, or discouraging what you refer to as “sexual license.” That is a religious/spiritual issue, an area in which government has no authority and has shown itself again and again throughout history to be hopelessly impotent.

  11. Don Says:

    “Why do you think homosexual marriage sanctions homosexual promiscuity?”

    I’ve oft contemplated this question as well in trying to understand Frank’s opposition to legalizing gay marriage. The conclusion I’ve come to is that Frank must believe that the simple act of homosexual sex equals homosexual promiscuity. Therefore, sanctioning gay marriage is akin to our government promoting an act which he feels is inherently “promiscuous” and consequently detrimental to society.

    I would argue that sanctioning monogamous, stable, committed, long-term relationships among gay people would lead to less actual promiscuity. Less promiscuity, I think inarguably, would be a benefit to society. But if one equates the mere act of gay sex with promiscuity then I guess this argument can be conveniently dismissed.

  12. Don Says:

    Frank,
    Why should the Church’s opinions about what constitutes a “healthy view of sexuality” have any bearing on the laws of our secular government? If you support banning gay marriage because the Church doesn’t think it is “healthy” would you also support banning sex between non-married heterosexual partners because it too isn’t “healthy”? I would hope the Frank that loves freedom and personal liberty would have a problem with that.

    Our government shouldn’t, and rightfully doesn’t, care what the LDS Church thinks is “sacred”.

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